WHEN it comes to raising children, parents often struggle with whether or not their style of parenting is an appropriate one. According to one researcher who studied parent-child interactions extensively, the type of parenting style practised has implications for a child's social, cognitive and emotional development. From such studies, four dimensions of parent-child interactions were identified: parental control, maturity demands, clarity of communication and nurturance.
Parental control refers to issues about rule enforcement. Maturity demands refer to the expectations parents have about their children performing up to their potential. Clarity of communication encompasses parents' willingness to speak with their children, seek their opinions and use reasoning to obtain desired behaviours. Finally, nurturance refers to how well a parent demonstrates warmth and affection, in addition to protecting a child's emotional and physical well-being. Based on these dimensions, four parenting styles were identified. Which style best resembles what you practise?
Authoritarian parent: This is an extremely rigid form of parenting. Parents expect their children to follow strict rules established by them and demand obedience. In order to achieve this obedience, disciplinary methods are more punitive and are likely to involve the use of verbal insults and physical punishment. There is little or no clarity in communication for why such rules exist, and when children ask for an explanation they are met with a response such as 'because I said so' or 'do not ask me anything'. Additionally, there is very little emotional or affectionate interaction between parent and child. Generally, authoritarian parents fail to give advice, are not very responsive to their children and are high on demands.
Authoritative parent: Similar to authoritarian parents, authoritative parents establish rules for their children to follow and expect obedience. However, the process is more democratic -- while parents still hold the authority, children are involved in making and agreeing to the rules, and should they be broken there is accountability and an understanding of why discipline must occur. Authoritative parents reason with their children and are supportive rather than punitive. Nurturing and advice is what influences a child to maintain a disciplined lifestyle.
Permissive parent: Sometimes referred to as indulgent, these parents rarely make demands of their children and discipline is used sparingly, if at all. They are non-traditional and lenient and are low on their need for mature behaviour from their children. They believe their children are capable of making their own decisions and offer very little guidance. Permissive parents tend to avoid arguments or confrontations with their children and adopt a communicative style which resembles a friendship versus a parent-child relationship.
Uninvolved parent: As the term suggests, there is a lack of involvement. Parents are often seen as neglectful, low on nurturance or interest in the child's daily activities, the fostering of individuality and self-regulation, and exert little control over their children's behaviour. There is very little communication in the parent-child relationship and parents provide only the basic necessities such as food and shelter. Generally speaking, this parent-child relationship is characterised by detachment from the child's life.
Parental styles have been recognised as having both a positive and negative impact on later child development. But style of parenting on its own is insufficient in determining how adjusted a child will be. Certainly one should consider other factors such as culture, child perception of parental involvement/treatment and other social influences.
Doneisha Burke is a clinical psychologist (MSc) and lecturer specialising in child and adolescent issues. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.